Lawsuit alleges school officials could have done more to protect Iditarod Elementary students from teacher

Published: Mar. 8, 2019 at 3:31 PM AKST
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A former Iditarod Elementary school student and her mother filed a lawsuit in Anchorage this week against the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.

The lawsuit says the former student was touched by popular teacher Lukis Nighswonger when he was her fourth grade teacher and again later when he was the girl's coach in sixth grade.

"It involved inappropriate contact that he had with her, inappropriate touching, contact with private parts," said Jeff Barber, the girl's attorney.

Prosecutors in Palmer have filed more than a dozen sexual abuse charges against Nighswonger, a former elementary school teacher arrested in late September after parents and students complained about inappropriate touching.

The once-popular teacher and coach now faces a total of 19 charges for offenses dating as far back as 2002, according to court records available online.

The lawsuit seeking $100,000 in damages from the MSBSD says the school district failed to have reasonable background checks and that employees "failed to reasonably identify Nighswonger inappropriately touching and/or interacting with children at Iditarod Elementary," among other charges.

It also says the school district "had a duty to implement a reasonable system to avoid and detect grooming and/or sexual predation and/or child molestation by staff."

According to a summary contained in the original charges, Nighswonger told police he was a pedophile during the investigation.

The girl's attorney says several students knew about Nighswonger's alleged behavior.

"It was apparent what he was doing. Other students witnessed him having inappropriate contact with students other than themselves," Barber said. "If the kids knew about it, why didn't the school district know about it? Why didn't other teachers know about this?"

Nighswonger had been a longtime teacher at Iditarod Elementary School until his arrest.

The school district declined to comment citing an ongoing criminal investigation.